THE WEEKLY HOWL DOESN'T THINK YOGA IS A SPORT

Rules: CrossFit Inc. finally released the rulebook for the 2019 CrossFit Games, which has clarified the new qualifying process. Also, transgender athletes can compete as long as they have complied with all the applicable legal and biological requirements. The basic structure of how to qualify has already been announced. What was lacking was the details. From Morning Chalk-Up:

If I’m already invited or qualified, either through a Sanctional, or the Open, can I take another qualification spot or invite?

Well it depends. Both on how you qualified or received an invite and which subsequent competition you’re involved in so here’s how it breaks down (3.01, 4.02, 4.03, 4.04):

Scenario 1: An athlete qualifies for the Games as national champion in the Open AND places top 20 worldwide in the Open.

  • That athlete would qualify for the Games as a national champion and their top 20 spot would be backfilled to the next athlete in line.

  • Example: If Rory Mckernan finishes in the top 20 worldwide for men, and is the national champion for the United States, then he qualifies as the United States national champion and his spot from the top 20 worldwide leaderboard goes to the 21st place finisher worldwide in the Open.

Scenario 2: An athlete qualifies for the Games as national champion in the Open AND wins one or more sanctioned events.

  • That athlete would qualify for the Games as a national champion and their sanctioned event invite would pass to the 2nd place athlete in the most recent sanctioned event he or she won.

  • Example: If Samantha Briggs, who has earned an invite from the Dubai CrossFit Championship, is National Champion for England/U.K, then her invite from Dubai will be extended to 2nd place Jamie Greene. If she were to win another sanctioned event, her invitation would pass to the 2nd place athlete of that event, not Jamie Greene.

Scenario 3: An athlete wins one or more sanctioned events AND finishes top 20 worldwide in the Open.

  • That athlete would qualify with a top 20 spot worldwide in the Open and their sanctioned event invite would pass to the 2nd place athlete in any sanctioned event he or she won.

  • Example: If Mat Fraser finishes top 20 worldwide in the Open, his invite from Dubai will be awarded to 2nd place Dubai finisher Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson. If he were to win another sanctioned event, his invitation would also pass to the 2nd place athlete of that event.

Scenario 4: An athlete wins multiple sanctioned events.

  • If an athlete has already received an invite from a sanctioned event, and then wins another one, the invite from the latter of the 2 events chronologically will be extended to the next athlete in line on the leaderboard that. Any further invites earned will also be passed down.

  • Example: If Mat Fraser, who has an invite from Dubai, skips the Open or doesn’t qualify via the Open, and then wins the Rogue Invitational, his invite from the Rogue Invitational, since it happened after Dubai, will be awarded to the 2nd place finisher, and if the 2nd place finisher (let’s call him Patricio Vellnino) has already been invited or qualified, then the 3rd place finisher will receive the invite, and so on, and so forth.

Scenario 5: An athlete qualifies by placing in the top 20 worldwide in the Open, and either declines, OR will compete on a team that has been invited to the Games.

  • That athlete’s top 20 qualifying spot from the Open will be passed down to the next athlete in line on the worldwide leaderboard.

Scenario 6: An athlete qualifies as national champion but declines, OR does not complete all the Open workouts as prescribed.

  • That athlete will not compete at the CrossFit Games, and their spot WILL NOT be backfilled or passed down to the next athlete in line on their country leaderboard.

I’m sure that this won’t seem as complicated once we’re into it but it is a lot to take in. I’m interested to see the learning curve here as athletes learn how to game the system. So the top 20 from the Open will qualify and then the 15 sanctional winners plus all the national champions. I’m trying to think of who could get screwed by this. The Open has traditionally been more of a cardio test with lighter loads in order to encourage mass participation. Assuming that doesn’t change dramatically, that could put some of the heavier, stronger athletes at a disadvantage a they could struggle to qualify from the Open. Especially if they’re citizens of a highly competitive nation.   

Fitness Inequality: CityLab ran an analysis on the density of sport and fitness centers around the country. Their findings are not surprising but still worthy of reviewing.

Availability of fitness centers is also a product of denser metros, where fewer people depend on the car. Our measure of fitness-center employees is positively associated with the metro density (.29) and even more strongly associated with the share of commuters who bike to work (.42), but negatively associated with those who drive to work alone (-.35)—a key indicator of sprawl. While this suggests a connection between fitness and walking, it also reflects the fact that denser metros—where more people walk to work—are more affluent and educated. That said, there is no association between our measure of fitness-center employees and the size of metros (measured by population). It appears that fitness centers are more a characteristic of the density, knowledge intensity, and especially the educational level of metros, rather than their size alone. Not surprisingly, given these findings, fitness-center availability is also a characteristic of more expensive cities, with a positive correlation (.37) to median housing costs.

              Fitness inequality is a very real problem in this country. It’s why you can see articles about the boom in expensive fitness boutiques alongside articles about rising obesity rates. Inequality, whether income or fitness or something else, is not a prescription for a healthy, cohesive society.

Motivation: This time of year, there is never a shortage of articles about how to achieve your New Year’s fitness resolutions. Some are good, some are bad, and many fall somewhere in between. I have 2 that I want to write about. From Insider, Jim Edwards brings us 3 things that your personal trainer doesn’t want you to know. Let’s dive in:

1.       Go to the nearest gym to you, not the nicest gym you can afford.

You will be tempted to join the fanciest gym you can afford — like that nice one you saw with the hot tub and the sauna. But your ability to continue showing up will depend on your work schedule and your personal life, not whether the steam smells minty fresh. If the gym commute is more than 10 minutes, it suddenly becomes difficult to squeeze in a workout before or after work. Ideally, you want to work out for about an hour each day. Once you factor in showering and changing, and the commute to and from your gym, that can easily end up closer to two and a half hours.

              This is absolutely true but I question whether this is something that the fitness industry doesn’t want people to know. Location/convenience are crucial in determining whether someone consistently goes to the gym. It should be the #1 consideration in selecting a gym.

2. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, and don't bother with those you hate.

Everyone knows that full-body fitness is all about changing things up. Muscle confusion! And not getting stuck in a rut! That is true.

It's good advice if you want to end up looking like Cristiano Ronaldo. But if you're a normal person, take it from me: You want the gym to be enjoyable. You do not want it to be a chore. So do the things you enjoy doing.

Remember, you're in this for the long haul, and it's not going to work if you hate it.

I like weights, running, and swimming. I almost never use an elliptical machine or one of those yoga balls. Many, many personal trainers have recommended stomach crunches to me, even though stomach crunches are one of the most useless forms of exercise. (The flatness of your stomach is almost entirely dependent on your diet and the overall amount of exercise you do, not whether you use the itty-bitty muscles just under your ribs.)

They're also really boring.

So I never do crunches.

              This is a weird one. I disagree with the basic premise but he likes “weights, running, and swimming” and can’t stand elliptical machines or doing crunches. This guy likes the most effective stuff and dislikes some of the least effective stuff. For him, this makes sense but I wouldn’t give it to most people.

3. Go to the gym even when you feel tired and don't want to.

The No.1 cause of not going to the gym is deciding to not go to the gym.

There will be many, many days when you feel too tired, or it's too late, or you have a cold coming on, and the idea of putting your feet on the coffee table seems much more appealing. But you can't do that.

Show up at the gym anyway.

Whether you like it or not. Working out when you're tired suuuuuuuuuucks. We all have days when you can get through only about 80% of your "normal" workout — but it's better than no workout.

Even half your normal workout will help you maintain your top fitness level. Not going at all, by contrast, will set you back.

Life is going to get in your way. Your boss will make you work late. You will get invitations to dinner. There will be plenty of days when you cannot go to the gym. But on the days you can, you have to go even when you don't want to.

              Suck it up and go the gym even when you don’t feel like it is always good advice. There’s always a reason to not workout. You have to learn to stop listening to that voice in your head. Gunnar Petersen, of celebrity training fame, also put out some fitness tips via the L.A. Times. Let’s talk about #1 and #5:

1. The flat-tire analogy

Everybody is aware of the pitfalls of overindulging. I’m not going to be the guy who says, “Don’t go to any parties, go to bed.” That’s not reasonable. People want to indulge and they should. Just don’t let all the wheels come off. Don’t miss your training, eat badly, get drunk and not sleep. If you lose one wheel, you can still limp along. All four wheels come off? You’re done.

               I would expand this to include the feeling of all 4 wheels coming off. You missed a couple of workouts and strayed from your nutrition plan a couple of times. The wheels haven’t come off, it just feels that way. Get back into it.

5. Fitness is free

People can’t claim not to know what to do. There are 50 million articles on fitness. I’m not going to say it’s easy to be in shape because it requires effort. But it’s easy to know what you have to do. You don’t have to go beyond the pay walls. Instagram is free and full of fitness professionals. Find something you like. If you are de-conditioned and haven’t worked out in a year and you see a guy pushing a sled 50 yards and then dropping down into a burpee and doing jumping jacks, that’s too much. So dial it back until you can say, “I like this person’s approach. I like how they speak. I can process it.”

              I love hearing this from a guy who probably charges a small fortune to train people. There’s nothing wrong with that but you don’t need Gunnar Petersen to get results. He’s a luxury. All you really need is get out there and do something. And if you have an internet connection, there is a world of free information out there.

Just Yoga It: Nike is releasing apparel designed specifically for yoga this month. What’s interesting is that (1) Nike has waited this long to sell yoga apparel (I didn’t realize that) and (2) they want you to know that they’re not into all that “Oom” crap. From Bloomberg:

Nike had previously shied away from directly battling Lululemon Athletica Inc. on its own turf -- the yoga mat. This push now pits Nike and Lululemon firmly against each other, though Nike’s not going full spiritualism and granola. Rather than leaning into yoga as a primary form of exercise, it’s touting the practice as a component of a wider workout regimen so gym rats can become more flexible, reduce recovery time and transfer movement patterns to the field.

As a result, the faces of Nike yoga aren’t typical yoga influencers. Instead, yoga is being billed as a “secret workout weapon” to prepare athletes such as NFL linebacker Khalil Mack for when he’s slamming into opposing quarterbacks on the gridiron, WNBA player Alana Beard as she’s knocking down jump-shots and sprinter Christian Coleman while he’s jetting down the track. The company will also release in January new yoga workouts on its app.

              A couple of things about Nike. First, they are methodical about expansion. Their strategy is that they get into one new sport at a time. Second, Nike thinks of itself as a sports company. So it’s interesting that they want to make it clear that they don’t consider yoga a sport (even though it is). Yoga apparel seems like a no-brainer for Nike but it may have been hamstrung by this strategy. But if you classify yoga as a subset of Nike Training then you can circumvent the one-sport-at-a-time thing. Also, Nike prides itself on designing its products for elite athletes and then using sports marketing to sell those products. A lack of well-known yoga athletes would have made that very difficult. Re-framing yoga as a way for elite athletes in other sports to improve their performance allows them to utilize their standard marketing techniques.

Stick to the basics: Nate Dern from Outside decided to go to 6 of the most unusual fitness classes in New York City and write about this experiences. I found this interesting because it tells us a lot of how to design and market fitness. His first stop: nude yoga at Naked in Motion.

In 2016, Willow Merveille founded Naked in Motion to create a safe, inclusive space that would “offer a tool for developing a kinder relationship with the mind and body.” I was skeptical. Ten of the eleven students were men. Was this a way to get more comfortable with your body, or yet another opportunity for those already comfortable with their body—mostly dudes—to flaunt it? By the end of class, I was surprised to find that I was OK with getting flexible in my birthday suit, surrounded by a classroom full of strangers. Give this a shot at least once—you’ll be a hero at parties

              It sounds like he left skeptical as well. His tepidly endorses it purely for the novelty of it. This is a gimmick. Next stop: Pilates at SLT.

SLT stands for strengthen, lengthen, and tone. The class comprises eternal planks, deep-as-you-can-go lunges, and pulsing squats, all in an intense 50-minute session. The pace of the reps is measured, but the transitions between exercises are fast, which had me looking around the room to see what contortion I was supposed to be doing. Color-coded numbers gave me Twister flashbacks. It’s a great workout, but be careful not to sprain your ego when your body starts shaking during a move called the Mermaid.

              This sounds like a tough workout but Dern does not sound enthused about it. I suspect that he is a Pilates neophyte and this class was designed for experienced practitioners who want to take it to the next level. After that it was on to cold temperature training at Brrrn.

This was the most genuinely enjoyable workout experience of the bunch. Brrrn describes itself as “the world’s first cool-temperature fitness concept.” In other words, they crank the A/C. I took a slide-board class and not only learned what slide boarding is (repeated lateral movement on a piece of slippery rubber while wearing booties), but also discovered that 55 degrees is my optimal workout temperature. I wore a tank top and for once didn’t end the class by trying to mop up an embarrassingly large puddle of sweat.

              Dern sums up the real benefit of Brrrn: you won’t sweat as much. The reason that no one else has done this yet is probably because most people associate sweat with effort. That’s why we got hot yoga before Brrrn. When I’m dressing for a run, I use the rule of thumb that once I’m warmed up I will feel about 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. 55 degrees is probably most people’s optimal workout temperature because it feels like 75 degrees. Calisthenics at ConBody was next.

The hardest class I took. The sign by the door said it all: “CrossFit. Cycling. Pilates. These white collar workouts aren’t cutting it.” My instructor, Coss Marte, founded ConBody after developing a workout routine during a four-year prison sentence. He didn’t particularly care about catering to our egos; he was going to lead us through a difficult workout—60 minutes without a break—and we could follow along or not. I was dripping sweat as I struggled through a series of jumping jacks, push-ups, high knees, burpees, suicide sprints, mountain climbers, bear crawls, wall sits, and more. But intense workouts aside, ConBody’s real mission is championing prison reform, and it hires formerly incar-cerated individuals to teach its classes. As soon as my hamstrings recover, I’ll be back.

              Simple, tough, and effective. It’s a no-frills workout that has an odd but compelling marketing angle: train like a convict does in prison. It’s interesting that people have figured out a way to cash in on the fetishization of prison workouts. After that it was off to a treadmill class at Mile High Run Club.

An admission: I’ve done this class before, and I love it. It’s basically an interval workout on a Woodway 4Front treadmill, a roughly $10,000 machine that is to a standard treadmill what a Tesla is to Fred Flintstone’s car. Classes are offered at 28-minute, 45-minute, and 60-minute durations. What sets MHRC apart from other treadmill-interval classes is the special attention paid to your perceived-effort level rather than to hitting specific speeds. A laminated pace chart is mounted onto each treadmill, and it encompasses a wide variety of fitness levels. Pro tip: don’t choose a machine directly opposite a mirror. Nobody has a flattering tempo face.

              Running intervals is brutally effective. His last stop was AG6, circuit-training that incorporates light-up floor tiles.

This 45-minute session at Asphalt Green, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of local residents, makes familiar circuit-based workout stations more interesting with light-up tiles on the floor and walls that are responsive to touch. So you’re not just doing sprints, you’re doing sprints to illuminate a circle on the ground! You’re not just doing medicine-ball slams, you’re doing medicine-ball slams to illuminate a circle on the ground! You get the idea. This class was the most stimulating, but it also made me realize that sometimes all I want is a boring old jog.

              There is always a tension in the fitness industry: do you go with what sells or with what works? Dern’s 2 favorites appear to be a calisthenics class and a running class. These are 2 of the most basic activities and very low-tech ($10,000 treadmill notwithstanding). The problem with basic and low-tech is that it makes it hard to stand out in a sea of fitness classes and gyms. ConBody has a built-in story that can cut through the clutter. One has to wonder if it would as successful if it was “just” a calisthenics class. I can see why fitness entrepreneurs feel like they need some kind of gimmick to get noticed and get people in the door but how much does that hurt them in the long run? And I believe that these gimmicks hurt the entire industry as well. People see nude yoga and think that everyone in the fitness industry is just selling the latest, stupid fad. We need to get better at marketing as an industry. There is a way to sell basic but effective workouts without resorting to gimmicks.    

Tidbits:

-Dwayne Johnson’s new fitness competition show, the Titan Games, has debuted on NBC

-“No Judgement” sounds dangerously close to “Judgement Free Zone”

-Want to work out in a shipping container in Singapore?

-Motiv is looking to add biometric payment capability to its fitness tracking rings

-ClassPass is acquiring competitor GuavaPass

-Can we retire the “fitness guru” title?

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO THE DESERT

No one likes change: Morning Chalk-Up published an op-ed from Chyna Cho on the changes to the qualifying process for the CrossFit Games. It was a fascinating peek into the mindset of a top CrossFit athlete as they’re figuring out how to adjust.

However, you just have to roll with the punches. I’ve dealt with changes before. First the Regionals changed from NorCal and SoCal into California, and we went from six spots to five spots—at the time I was terrified of that. Then we went from the California Regional to the West Regional, and we went from 10 spots down to five spots.

In the end, though, how you feel doesn’t really matter. If I’m angry, that doesn’t give me more opportunities, if I’m sad about it, it doesn’t make me any more fit or any better. You just have to be like, “Well, I hope my fitness is good enough.” And keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t think anything changes just because there are fewer spots.

              None of this was ever set in stone. The process was always changing as the sport exploded. This is the most radical change yet but you’re still going to have to do CrossFit things to qualify for the CrossFit Games. However, you might have to do those things in another country. I am less concerned with the notion of fairness than I am with the learning curve involved in navigating a completely different process. Devising a strategy for qualifying is not so clear-cut and I think that there will be a lot of lessons learned in the first couple of years. In the long-run, everyone will adapt and the best athletes will qualify. In the short-run, there might be chaos.

Right now my plan is to go to Wodapalooza on a team. The rules now say you can qualify for the Games on a team and still qualify individually. I think it’s a good option just in case, so that’s my plan for Wodapalooza.

Then I will try to qualify as an individual in the Open. This year the top 20 in the world qualify for the Games, and I’ve been in the top 30 worldwide the last three years (Cho placed 28th in 2018, 23rd in 2017, and 35th in 2016), so it’s not a super long shot. I would love to do that because then I wouldn’t have to travel. That gets expensive. If that doesn’t work out, then I will definitely try to go to a qualifier and try to peak for that.

My training didn’t change a lot after the announcement about the Games. There’s more focus on the Open now, and the Open is traditionally classic CrossFit. You have to have a really good engine and you have to be good at all the basic movements like thrusters, pull-ups, wall balls, and double-unders. In the Open they are not going to film someone running 10 miles. You have to be good at Fran, you have to be good at all the basics. I’ve done a little less swimming and running and odd object things since I heard those changes, but intensity wise, timing wise, mentally, it’s all the same.

              Cho’s plan makes a lot of sense. She’s going to hedge her bets between the individual and the team competition and make qualifying through the Open her Plan A. If she fails to do that, she will have time to make a concerted attempt (or even 2) at a sanctioned event. My question is how CrossFit is going to manage all the athletes who qualify as both individuals and team members. Maybe there won’t be that many people who qualify for both but I think that a lot of athletes are probably approaching the upcoming like Cho is. With all this uncertainty, athletes are going to want to make sure that they have punched their ticket to Madison in some form.

              There is also a move to make it easier for athletes to make multiple qualifying attempts. Wodapalooza announced that it would partner with the Brazil CrossFit Championship in order to allow the top 4 male and female finishers as well as the top team from Miami automatic entry into the field in Sao Paulo. From Morning Chalk-Up:

The BCC qualifiers — January 30 – February 3, 2019 — start on the final day of Wodapalooza making participation from athletes competing in Miami nearly impossible.

With the partnership, it now creates yet another avenue for the sport’s biggest stars to parlay strong competition performances into more opportunities throughout the season in the event they come up just short of a coveted qualifying spot.

It’s opportunities like this that Olschewski believes will be major benefit for both athletes and fans alike. “The Brazil CrossFit Championship, taking place in the center of the Latin American CrossFit community, is expected to be a huge spectator event and thus it makes sense to have some of the best athletes in the world compete in Sao Paulo: Having passionate crowds of fans push the best athletes through exciting events. That is what part of the sport should be about.”

Similar to other competitions, when athletes decline their invitation is passed onto the next in line. Presumably because the individual winners and team will decline due to already qualifying for the Games, their spot will be given to the next highest placing athlete and team.

              It’s good to see the people involved in this thinking ahead and trying to make the transition less painful for the athletes.

Wild West: Boxrox interviewed Kelli Holm, a CrossFit athlete in the 35-39 age group who recently tested positive for endurabol but had her ban reduced after an appeal.

Why was your ban reduced?

My ban was reduced because we were able to prove via a third-party supplement testing company that the supplement was contaminated with the same substance for which I tested positive. We also provided additional documentation to support my case.

What steps do you think could be taken in the future to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t keep happening for athletes?

The thing that CrossFit emphasized the most to me during this process was the importance of third-party testing of supplements (if you choose to take supplements at all). So, increasing awareness among athletes around third-party testing would theoretically help to prevent this in the future. What’s interesting is that I thought I was being careful in choosing my supplements, and most of them were third party tested. This particular supplement was just so widely used, commonly seen at CrossFit events, and sponsoring CrossFit athletes, that I naively figured the company as a whole was safe. And that decision falls on me – I own that for sure and don’t blame anyone else.

I also think there may be room for more formal education around it from CrossFit. Other professional sports provide mandatory education around anti-doping for their athletes, and it could be something worth considering for CrossFit. (Picture something like the Online Judges Course for the Open, but around safe supplementation practices and related topics instead of judging.) With all the changes at CrossFit HQ right now, I’m not sure if that’s something they would considering investing in, but one could argue that it would be worthwhile if they want to continue to hold athletes to the zero-tolerance standard and maintain such severe penalties, regardless of the circumstances.

Without getting lost in the weeds here, I would also love if there were a way to hold supplement companies more accountable for what they put into their products. I don’t have a particular solution for it, I just have realized over the past couple of months how prevalent this issue is and how little we can do about it. I have no problem with holding athletes accountable, but it’s fascinating the way we manage to criticize athletes for their role in it, and then throw up our hands at the role supplement companies play.

              I find it surprising that there are so many high-level athletes who still think it’s safe to take supplements. The supplement industry is completely unregulated and has been for decades. There is no oversight for what goes into all those powders and pills. It’s the Wild West. I have been reading stories of athletes testing positive and blaming tainted supplements for decades as well. None of this is new territory. Arnold Schwarzenegger just launched a supplement company to address this issue. From Men’s Health:

Ladder aims to change how you view food supplements. It hits the crowded protein market with a direct-to-consumer model that skips the middle man (sorry, GNC) and a promise to personalize your nutrition. “The idea is not to overwhelm people with these huge cans of protein, stuff they didn’t know what to do with, how many scoops to put in,” the 71-year-old bodybuilding icon tells Men's Health.

You don’t buy a giant tub of protein from Ladder. Instead, you head to the company website and fill out a questionnaire. Ladder then ships you packages of protein tuned to your specific needs and body type.

It’s an idea that Schwarzenegger got a few years ago from James, whom he’s known for 20 years. After struggling through the 2014 NBA Finals, James decided to start developing his own food supplements—supplements designed for his body chemistry and made from ingredients he could trust. When he mentioned that to Schwarzenegger, the action hero was instantly intrigued.

“He explained to me that the whole idea behind it was that he cannot afford to be tested and not pass a drug test,” Schwarzenegger said. “I found that fascinating, because that was always my complaint about the (protein) products, that they don’t know what is in this. You know that, ‘OK, this is protein or this is whey protein or this is milk protein or this is egg protein. You know that, but you don’t know exactly what is in it.”

 That idea also appealed to Vonn, a world-class skier who, much like LeBron, can't afford to fail a test. Crawford, who has plenty of experience marketing products, joined soon after. "It was kind of organic," says Schwarzenegger. "There was no deadline. We never even thought about, you know, starting a company, until awhile back. And so here we are."

              I do think that Kelli Holm has a point that there should be some level of education regarding anti-doping. It’s only fair that everyone who competes in the sport understands that CrossFit has a zero tolerance policy regarding banned substances and that you’re rolling the dice if you take any supplement without testing it first. As for holding supplement companies accountable, that will probably never happen. From The Atlantic:

While it costs millions of dollars to develop and substantiate a pharmaceutical product, selling supplements requires no such investment. And new products are easily sold as supplements: The only common feature among them, as defined by the FDA, is that these are edible things “not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases.”

That is why people take them, though.

This expansive category was set forth in the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994, known as DSHEA, which passed on Kessler’s watch. Backed by Senator Orrin Hatch and enormous investment from the supplement industry, the law allows any of these products to go directly to market and carry unfounded claims about what the product does. The burden is on the FDA to prove that the product is unsafe, if it later proves to be harming people, and then take the producer to court.

“When there's a problem, FDA does take action, and usually it's when there is a contaminant,” explained Margaret Hamburg, who served as FDA commissioner from 2009 to 2015. She noted that while companies are required to report any known “severe” adverse effects of their products, “it's very hard to even know what's going on.”

              Because the burden of proof is on the FDA, they’re only going to do anything when it becomes a safety issue. They don’t have the time or the budget to investigate why a couple of athletes tested positive. The best thing that you can do is break free of the supplement habit. They’re not getting regulated anytime soon.

Stay Well: The Atlantic sent James Hamblin out to the desert to find himself. His destination was the Wellspring wellness festival in Palm Springs. The festival was a gathering of a couple thousand of fitness and wellness enthusiasts who could afford to shell out $1000 and travel to Palm Springs. If that sounds like it could be a bit elitist, it was. But to the credit of the participants, they were very aware of that and concerned about the implications.

Elitism was a hot point of contention and discussion among attendees. The convention center was literally divided into two camps: One wing held the expo, with its many aforementioned products, while some 100 yards away a separate wing housed stages where speakers condemned wanton consumerism.

“A significant cost is the association of wellness with money—thinking you need something external, tinctures and potions and balms. Its, you know, it’s the stuff that’s here,” said the Zen priest Angel Kyodo Williams, the second of only four black women recognized as teachers in the Japanese Zen lineage, during a talk in the latter wing as she gestured in the direction of the expo. “And there’s nothing wrong with those things, but we have a psychic connection that wellness equals something I can purchase, something I’m in competition for, something that I have to acquire because it’s not intrinsic to me.”

Also:

Wellness isn’t just gendered. Most of the products and services that define the industry are clearly marketed toward young, thin, toned, ambulatory women who are white. Some speakers were blunt about the fact that wellness is often synonymous with—and sometimes a proxy for—whiteness. One panel was literally called “Wellness Beyond Whiteness,” in which it was decided that wellness needed to be totally reconciled into something for everyone—not to simply be “inclusive” or “bring people to the table,” but to demolish the table and, as with any growing movement, keep building new tables.

The old “bring people to the table” metaphor rang especially egregious to the artist and writer Anasa Troutman, who had a similarly revelatory vision for wellness: “Unless we’re willing to make a commitment to community, we will never be well. Even if you wake up every morning and drink your juice and do your yoga, without that commitment to each other we will not be well as a country and as a world,” Troutman said.

And:

This is at odds with the consumerist bent to wellness. If the movement indeed rejects the quick-fix products, which seems infeasible, it’s unclear what wellness is to become. If wellness is actually essentially the inverse of consumerism, and nearly synonymous with connectedness and wholeness and feeling complete, then the industry will need a new way to monetize.

Wellness is such a broad and holistic idea. Fitness is much more contained but shares a lot of the same problems. It is also becoming a privilege of the affluent and suffers from a rash of people selling unnecessary products. I worry that people think that they need something external in order to get fit. I don’t think that fitness is the inverse of consumerism but I hate the idea that people might be discouraged from pursuing their fitness goals because they assume that they need a lot of money to do so. Fitness needs to be more inclusive as well.

I would love to get a non-American view on this because there seems to be this underlying assumption that everything has to be monetized. Just because you have a good idea, does that automatically mean that you have to figure out a way to get rich from it?

Shiver Yourself Thin: It’s no great insight that people love the idea of fitness shortcuts. Those who don’t work-out dream of a magic pill, something that would give them the benefits of exercise without all the sweat and toil. Those who do work-out dream of some way to trick their body into working harder or recovering better than it does naturally. This can lead people down some very strange roads. You might see it in a person running in 3 pairs of sweats on an 80 degree day. Or in a person working out with a mask designed to simulate conditions at altitude. The latest buzz has been exercising in the cold. The idea is that your body has to use more energy in order to keep you warm which will burn more calories, right? Not really. From Vox:

Now here’s the rub: These processes only kick in to keep you warm when you’re truly cold. But once you start exercising — running or cross-country skiing, for instance — outside, you’re going to start generating heat from the physical activity. And the exercise alone may give you enough heat that your body wouldn’t burn any extra calories through shivering and brown fat.

That’s why you can go running in very cold temperatures wearing a light sweater and pants, but if you were just sitting around outside in the same cold climate, you’d need to bundle up in a heavy jacket and hat, or you’d start to shiver, to stay warm, Pontzer explained.

“The best way to use the cold to burn more calories would be to not exercise while you're outdoors,” Pontzer added. “You'd get your brown fat cooking and making heat, and might even start shivering, all of which burns calories.”

Now, it is possible to get those energy-burning heating processes going while exercising. Cypess imagined a scenario where a person is exercising in subzero temperatures, and wearing light enough clothes, that the exercise alone isn’t keeping him warm, and thermogenesis kicks in.

But even in that case, you’d only burn a few additional calories at best, Cypess said. In studies where he’s put participants in cold rooms for entire days, they burned off an additional 150 to 200 calories. Again, that’s a full day of cold — not an hour’s worth of outdoor activity.

You can’t trick your body into working harder during exercise. You are already working hard. You can’t work extra hard without any additional effort. If you’re running 7:00 minute miles, you can’t get the benefit of running 6:30 miles without putting in the effort to run 6:30 miles.

Umbrella Company: Club Industry interviewed Anthony Geisler, the CEO of Xponetial, the private equity-backed company that is gobbling up boutique fitness brands. He gave a peek into his strategy and how he views the industry.

With seven boutique brands in different verticals now in its stable, Geisler is on his way to including a brand under Xponential from each of the eight cores he sees in the boutique market: Pilates, barre, cycling, rowing, yoga, stretch and dance. The eighth core is running, he said, noting that he is in pursuit of a running brand but not divulging the potential acquisition. 

              What about HIIT? Or cardio kick-boxing? They seem like more a core in the boutique market than running.

Also:

The portfolio of Xponential brands allow landlords to create a “fit row” at their strip malls while working with one company instead of dealing with multiple companies, Geisler said. Xponential has already created next-door-neighbor offering in several cities, including in Orange County, California, where a Row House is located next to a Club Pilates and in Louisville, Kentucky, where a CycleBar stands next to a Club Pilates.

Having studios in close proximity to each other is a win-win-win—for landlords (who need to fill their brick and mortar spaces), Xponential (who wants to sell more franchises) and members (who want easy access to multiple fitness options).

Another win for members is a pass that allows them to upgrade their memberships so they can attend classes at more than one Xponential studio brand.

              There is so much potential here in linking together a bunch of boutiques. Co-locating gives consumers a central location and helps landlords fill those big spaces. Having a bunch of boutiques under the same corporate umbrella could lead to some sort of master boutique membership. That’s why it’s even more surprising that Xponetial doesn’t consider HIIT a core discipline. None of the current brands in the Xponetial portfolio contain strength-training. That’s the missing piece to a complete fitness picture.

              Geisler also had some thoughts on fitness fads:

Anyone who thinks that the studio trend will cool because people will tire of paying for a singular activity may not want to voice that opinion to Geisler. He has heard that “garbage” for 16 to 17 years, he said, even back to his LA Boxing days when people called boxing a fad.

“I don’t know when this downfall is coming or when this ‘fad’ is over,” he said. “I heard that Pilates was a fad. I have heard it all. Yoga was a fad until it was a staple. I just don’t know why it’s going to go away.”

              Amen brother.

What’s Swedish for fitness: I just wanted to share this bit of news: Ikea is collaborating with Adidas on home fitness solutions. From Architectural Digest:

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trend unless IKEA is partaking, and sure enough, the retailer announced an upcoming collaboration with Adidas on a collection to make exercising at home easier, and at a good price point. “We know the home plays an important role in creating lifelong habits both for adults and children,” said Josefine Aberg, Adidas’s VP of Design, Training at the Ikea Democratic Design Days last June. “So we will really be looking at how we can make fitness fit into their home environment, and how it can be a part of their daily routine.” While there is no specific launch date for the collection, the two megabrands have been popping into real households to learn where the challenges lie, primarily with space restrictions. But if there’s any company that can solve a small space problem, it’s IKEA, so look out for whole new ways to build buns of steel from the comfort of your living room.

              I am curious what this will look like because working out at home typically requires more open space, not more furniture. The one direction that I could see this going is into furniture that allows consumers to store their fitness equipment out of sight. A credenza that has a dumbbell rack inside it or something like that. Somehow, I doubt that they do anything really cool like an armoire with a pop-out pull-up bar but you never know.

Tidbits:

-A brief history of the Turkey Trot

-The U.S. Army is starting a functional fitness competition team

-Sir Mix-A-Lot was ahead of his time

-Eat your vegetables

-User beware

-Don’t forget to stretch

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

Fitness Trackers: The media loves to cover the British Royal Family and right now, Prince Harry and Megan Markle are the center of attention. So it’s big news when Harry decides to start sporting a fitness tracker. Unfortunately, he chose to wear one that’s a ring. From Vox:

People magazine “exclusively” and excitedly identified it as an Oura ring, after much speculation on social media and in online publications. His is the $299 black Heritage version, though there is a silver version with diamonds that costs $999. It makes sense that he chose this trip to debut the ring; traveling from the Western hemisphere to Australia is a difficult transition for your body and sleep patterns.

The tracker focuses on sleep primarily, though it also reminds you to get up if you’ve been inactive for too long, and it tracks steps, workouts, and calories like any number of trackers out there. “The tiny ring also has Amazon Alexa support, so you can check your fitness stats using your voice, instead of having to faff around with the app,” writes the Evening Standard. Because who has time for faffing when you have people to hug!

              I am not excited to see that these ring trackers keep proliferating. There is not much awareness around ring avulsion right now but there should be. Wearing rings while engaging in physical activity is dangerous and should not be encouraged. A ring-shaped fitness tracker might seem like a great idea if you aren’t aware of ring avulsion but it is not. Everyone should take off their rings before they workout or do anything physical. Selling a ring that is designed to be worn during exercise is putting people’s fingers at risk. 

Home Gym: Working out at home is nothing new but it is certainly more attractive than ever. That means that the media has to start talking about whether this will lead to the DEATH OF GYMS. From Fast Company:

A new report from user insights platform Alpha looks at whether consumers are ready to bunker down inside, as well as the biggest obstacles facing the $14 billion home fitness equipment market. In their findings, analysts learned that 54% of Americans who work out at least once a month are interested in buying an at-home fitness system, but several concerns keep them from pulling the trigger.

Of those surveyed, 34% claimed they have “no room in their home or apartment” for the equipment, while 24% said the trendy systems were too expensive. In third place, 11% said they simply preferred the live environment of fitness classes.

While those all seem like reasonable objections, it’s interesting that the majority did not single out price, notes Alpha cofounder Nis Frome. “The rest of the objections seem easier to overcome than being too expensive,” says Frome via email. He also echoed what many industry insiders have said before: Prices will continue to drop as tech advances and adoption continues to grow.

              These reasons aren’t mutually exclusive. If you have no room in your house for exercise equipment, then you are going to reject the idea before you even get to the price. And how is lack of room easier to overcome? That is a bigger obstacle as real estate prices continue to rise. As technology evolves, it tends to become cheaper. As time goes on, real estate prices tend to rise.

              The other issue that they don’t address is whether people see something like Peloton as a complement to a traditional gym membership. It doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. What about people who work out during their lunch break? Or people who don’t like taking classes. If gyms don’t exist, how will the point of entry be for consumers? A person who has never worked out before will just shell out thousands of dollars for something that they’ve never used before?

Fitness can be very personal. If you talk to anyone about their fitness routines, you learn a lot about their lives because we all have to fit it in around our careers and families. And we all have vastly different goals and preferred ways to workout. There will never be an iPhone of fitness, which is what I think Fast Company is trying to suggest.

Inequality: Here are 2 facts:

1)      The fitness industry is growing in this country

2)      Obesity in the U.S. is worse than ever

Now you take in these facts and start jumping to some ill-advised conclusions. If you’re Axios, you’ll

probably jump to the conclusion that this must mean that the fitness industry is full of false

promises and doesn’t work.

Between Soul Cycle, Fitbit, Whole30 diets and social media health gurus, the health and wellness industry is booming — but Americans are more likely to be obese today than ever before.

The problem: Despite promises made by gyms and fitness programs, physical activity does little to help people lose weight, says Ashkan Afshin from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. And Americans' diets are still terrible.

One key trend: The prevalence of diseases most attributed to obesity — high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — has held steady or even fallen over the past few years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • But that's mostly due to increased treatment for those conditions, health experts say.

Meanwhile, obesity has created a thriving industry in the U.S., even though many programs have little medical or scientific backing.

The U.S. fitness industry is the most lucrative in the world, bringing in $30 billion worth of revenue in 2017, according to the latest report by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) — a global trade association for the fitness industry.

  • Since 2008, the number of gym members has increased by more than 33% in the U.S., according to the same report.

  • The commercial weight loss program market was worth $2.77 billion in 2016 and was expected to grow 9.4% to $3.03 billion in 2017, according to Marketdata.

  • Fitbit's consumers have grown from 500,000 to more than 25 million in just 5 years, according to data collected by Statista.

  • Fitness apps and wearables overall are projected to be used by 16.4% of people in the market by 2023, up from 15.7% in 2016, per Statista.

But food is the key problem when it comes to obesity, according to Afshin.

  • "Data shows there is increased availability, affordability and accessibility of high energy-dense foods," Afshin said. And many Americans are eating more than their bodies need.

  • More than a third of Americans eat fast food every day — an industry notorious for high caloric, low nutrition meals — and only 1 in 10 eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, per CDC.

  • Eat better, not less: Stanford argues that eating less isn't always the solution either. Some dietitians argue that the quality of the food matters more than the number of calories.

While the author is correct that food is as much to blame as lack of exercise, what they don’t seem to understand is that this boom in fitness is not evenly distributed. There are 2 Americas when it comes to fitness. In the first one, people spend money on gyms, exercise equipment, fitness trackers, and healthy food. This is the world of SoulCycle and CrossFit and Peloton. This is where all that fitness spending is coming from.  In the second one, people don’t belong to a gym, rarely exercise, and eat a lot of fast food. This is where the obesity is coming from.

This is fitness inequality. Health and wellness is turning into a luxury product. The obesity epidemic isn’t the failure of physical activity to help people lose weight.  It’s the failure of the fitness industry to reach most Americans. William Gibson once wrote that the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. That is an apt description of the fitness industry right now. Fitness is still a young industry. Less than 20% of Americans are members of a gym. The majority of the country is not engaging in the fitness culture even though it appears widespread in the major cities. The story isn’t that the fitness industry is making false promises, it’s that most Americans are not engaging with it at all. 

Military Fitness: The Army is looking to launch its new physical fitness test in 2020 and in the meantime, it’s still tinkering with some of the technique requirements. From Military.com:

The exercises are locked in, but the mechanics may change to make them easier to grade, Whitfield East, the research physiologist for Center for Initial Military Training, told Military.com today at an ACFT demonstration.

"During the field test, we are refining the hand-release pushup," East said, explaining that event will either have soldiers raise their hands straight up off the ground before coming back up or extend their hands out to the sides and bring them back in again before coming up again.

The arm-extension version may be easier to grade, East said.

"More or less, the point of it is to ensure that they are totally resting on the ground. We don't want them in a low hover over the ground," East said.

The arm-extension also "engages a little bit of the ... muscles in the back," East said, adding that "it is good to link movements together, so a pull-type movement and a push-type movement."

Both techniques achieve similar physical results, said Lt. Col. David Feltwell, the command physical therapist for the Center for Initial Military Training.

"Biomechanically, and from a combat specificity point of view, both work pretty well, but we really want to make sure we are getting a gradable event," he said.

              I like the fact that they are designing it with grading in mind because pushups done in a military physical fitness test are generally garbage, at least in my experience. Doing something to slow them down is a great idea. The way that the Army is approaching this re-design seems well-thought out. It will be a drastic change (which is never without problems) but in the long run I think that it will be a positive one.

But why not parallel bar dips? They work the same muscles but are generally a more challenging exercise which is easier to grade. The increased difficulty forces people to slow down which makes it easier to keep count. Dips get no respect in the world of military fitness and I don’t understand why.

CrossFit: Morning Chalk-Up did a breakdown of CrossFit affiliate growth. Obviously, the numbers are impressive.

Since Greg Glassman opened the first affiliate in 2001 in Santa Cruz, CA, CrossFit has exploded globally. Currently there are more than 15,000 locations in 162 countries.

Not only is CrossFit the largest fitness chain in the world, comparatively speaking, it’s also one of the largest and fastest growing corporate chains.

  1.  Subway — 42,998*

  2. McDonald’s — 37,200*

  3. Starbucks — 28,720*

  4. KFC — 20,404*

  5. Burger King — 16,859*

  6. Pizza Hut — 16,796*

  7. CrossFit — 15,500 (2018 approximate data)

  8. Domino’s Pizza — 15,000*

It’s nice to see a fitness company breaking up the list of fast food companies. More interesting was how CrossFit is looking outside the U.S. for current growth.

The growth of CrossFit affiliates as a whole has slowed down in recent years. Since 2015, affiliate growth has slowed in the United States down to about 2%-5% per year. Of affiliates that opened from 2012 – 2015, only approximately 62% are still open today.

However, it appears that pace is picking up again, especially internationally.

In the past 12 months, 2500 new affiliates registered with CrossFit; 820 were in the United States (32.8%), 1680 were opened internationally. And today, for the first time in CrossFit’s history there are more gyms located outside the United States.

CrossFit’s recent changes and renewed focus on affiliate growth and expansion makes sense given the continued growth of the brand internationally and the need to support new affiliates opening overseas.

I’ll be more explicit here. CrossFit is seeing most of its growth coming from overseas and wanted to have more CrossFit events outside of the U.S. But they found that organizing events on other continents to be prohibitively expensive. That meant that they needed to find other funding (through issuing debt or selling equity) or find some partners willing to organize events. Greg Glassman probably found the idea of selling debt/equity repugnant while there was already an ecosystem of competitions that were CrossFit in everything but name. That’s why we’re seeing CrossFit add so many international events because that’s where the future of CrossFit lies.

In other CrossFit news, Brent Fikowski is quitting his full-time job to focus on being a professional athlete. I have two thoughts on this. The first is that it is remarkable that Fikowski had been an anomaly up until this point: a CrossFit Game athlete who did something besides CrossFit. It is amazing that a sport so young can already support so many people to pursue it full-time. The second is that Mat Fraser was a college student in 2014 and 2015 when took 2nd place 2 years in a row. Then he graduated and began to focus on training full-time and started to dominate. Will we see a similar jump in performance from Fikowski that allows him to challenge Fraser for the top spot?

Finally, Lukas Hogberg failed to qualify for the Dubai CrossFit Championship. This is only a few months after taking 3rd place at the CrossFit Games so it is a surprising development. And I don’t think that this will be the last time that we see something like this. This is all brand new to the athletes. They have to figure out what their qualifying strategy will be and then see how their bodies respond to it. My guess is that Hogberg’s fitness didn’t bounce back after the Games the way that he had expected it to. There is going to some trial and error in the first couple of years. All the more reason to save those at-large qualifying spots for actual CrossFitters.

Tidbits:

-The founder of Lululemon has written a book

-It turns out that you can’t have too much of a good thing

-Where are they now: Jackie Warner

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS PIVOTING!!!

World Domination: CrossFit has announced another 4 sanctioned events, in addition to the 2 that had been previously announced. From Boxrox:

The next four CrossFit sanctioned events are:

  • French Throwdown, 

  • Fittest in Cape Town,

  • Brazil CrossFit Championship

  • Mid-Atlantic Affiliate Challenge

The previous two events to be released are the Dubai CrossFit Championship and the Granite Games. This brings the total to 6 so far, with 10 more events to be released soon.

              I realize that we are only 6 events into what will be a 16 event slate but there is a sizable international flavor so far. 4 of the 6 announced events are held outside of the U.S.       

-2 in North America (Granite Games, Mid-Atlantic)

-1 in Europe (French Throwdown)

-1 in South America (Brazil CrossFit Championship)

-1 in Africa (Fittest in Cape Town)

-1 in Middle East (Dubai CrossFit Championship)

Is this indicative of a desire to make the sport of CrossFit more international? This year, there were 9 Regional competitions.

              -5 in North America (East, Atlantic, Central, South, West)

              -1 in South America (Brazil)

              -2 in Europe (Spain, Germany)

              -1 in Australia (Pacific)

Or the remaining 10 events could be mostly U.S. based and we end up with a similar distribution. However, if there ends up being more international events then the fact that CrossFit spend $1 million on the Brazil Regional this year could have been a real wake-up call for Greg Glassman. Perhaps, he was looking to have more international representation in the qualifying process but realized that CrossFit couldn’t afford to do it alone. The desire to crown the Fittest in every country speaks to CrossFit’s global ambitions but we will see what the last 10 events end up being. 

Pivot!!!: What’s in a name? For a company, quite a lot. It conveys what a company’s mission is and what that company can do for a consumer. Re-branding is nothing new. Apple Computers became Apple after it expanded beyond the Macintosh line. Research in Motion became Blackberry in a belated acknowledgement that the company was known for one thing. Lately, we’ve seen quite a few re-brandings. Dunkin Donuts is becoming Dunkin because it is becoming more known for its coffee than its donuts. Michael Kors is acquiring Versace and then changing its name to Capri because it wants to become a fashion conglomerate on par with LVMH. IHOP briefly changed its name to IHOB in order to spread awareness that the restaurant chain was going to be serving hamburgers (for everyone who criticized that move, remember that we all know that IHOP serves burgers now). And Weight Watchers is rebranding itself as WW. From Vox:

Weight Watchers will now be known as “WW.” The 55-year-old company just announced that it is rebranding to focus more on overall health. Its new tagline: “Wellness that works.”

It’s a change the company has been building up to since 2015. Oprah Winfrey came on as an investor when Weight Watchers was in decline and announced that she lost a lot of weight on the program while also still eating bread every single day. The company’s fortunes have improved since then, but it is shooting for $2 billion in revenue, according to Fortune, a goal that has been in its sights for almost a decade but has not yet come to fruition.

It’s not surprising that Weight Watchers is distancing itself from dieting. We are in a moment when the concepts of wellness and self-care have become all-important. Talking openly about dieting is becoming taboo, and the body positivity movement is on the rise. Weight Watchers had to change to stay relevant, and it’s been increasingly talking up wellness and a healthy lifestyle for a few years now. Tellingly, in an op-ed in the New York Times in March decrying the company’s plan to offer free memberships to teens as young as 13, Jennifer Weiner wrote, “You could almost believe that the company was preparing to change its name from Weight Watchers to Self-Esteem and Healthy Habits Central.”

              Of course, WW is not going to completely abandon weight loss. Re-brandings aren’t about complete reversals; they’re about expansion. Dunkin isn’t going to stop selling donuts, they’re expanding their offerings. Apple didn’t stop making Mac’s either. This is trickier area because there is a bit of a backlash to dieting culture and for good reason. But people still want to lose weight and WW wants to help them do that. They’re just going to talk about it in a different way. This is not the dramatic pivot that a startup might do. This is a company that was founded in 1963 and is a household name. It’s a more subtle pivot from dieting to health & wellness. But that new name…

The blue logo featuring the two letters stacked on top of each is by now a familiar one to users of the company’s app. But “double-you double-you” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Will the company try to shorten that into something like “Two Dubs” or “Double Dub”? Wait a few more financial quarters to find out.

My suggestions are either Double-Dubs or 2W.

You can’t beat free: Any time that anyone is dispensing fitness wisdom, ask yourself if there are any conflicts of interest. Most of the time, that person is selling something, whether that something is a fitness product, a gym, a training philosophy, or just themselves. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to anyone, it just means that you should approach them with a critical mind. But sometimes, they are just full of crap. Exhibit A is an article from the Irish Times about free, outdoor gyms. No one could have a problem with that, right?

Despite the increasing prevalence of outdoor gyms across parks and public places in Ireland, not everybody is convinced of their usefulness. Siobhán Byrne, a personal trainer and director and co-owner of BodyByrne Fitness, believes outdoor gyms have a place, but are “not for everybody”.

“I love when there’s money put back into our parks to get people outdoors, but you can’t see a 65-year-old woman going for the first time and using the chin-up bars,” she says. “That’s just not realistic. But some of the equipment might help people to get motivated.”

Byrne also suspects that outdoor gyms are not actually used effectively or often enough. “I’ve seen kids messing around on them, but I’ve never seen anyone using them seriously. That’s not to say that nobody does work out on them. But as a personal trainer, I don’t feel that you’re getting a really effective workout from them. I do think that doing something is better than nothing. If they have the potential to get people out doing something in a group, then it’s effective.”

Byrne believes much needs to be done to encourage people to get active and believes public funds could be better spent on other initiatives. “I certainly think the Government should be looking at putting more money into people-training and getting them fit, whether that’s through gym subscriptions and personal trainers. These are the things that help our health service over a number of years. The fitter and healthier we are, the less reliant we are going to be on health services in years to come.

As a personal trainer, Byrne feels that people can get “so much more” from joining a gym rather than using outdoor gym equipment. “I’ve been training clients for 15 years, and there’s nothing like strength-training in a gym environment with somebody experienced to guide you through. You have these outdoor gyms in place and people are trying to figure them out, and some of them have never been to a gym before. That’s obviously never going to be as effective as being in a gym environment where you’re being shown what to do.”

              The fitness industry needs to get smarter because this is really dumb. Of course, you get what you pay for. We need to stop putting any credence in media reports that (Insert X) is going to replace gyms and personal trainers. These trainers seem scared that they will lose potential business to these free, outdoor gyms. Do these trainers really think that the consumer who uses a free, outdoor gym overlaps with the consumer who would pay for a personal trainer? Personal training is a luxury product; if it was a car, it would be a Mercedes. A big box gym membership (without any personal training) is a Honda. A free, outdoor gym is public transit. Mercedes never feels the need to point out that riding the bus is a far worse experience than driving the new S-Class because their consumers don’t overlap with people who ride the bus. Let’s get smarter. Also, outdoor gyms could serve as a gateway to a traditional gym membership. It’s an easy, non-threatening way to try out some strength training and if they like it, maybe they would be inclined to upgrade to a commercial gym.

Do you like luxury?: Personally, I don’t need a lot of frills when I’m working out. I just need everything to function, form is not a huge concern for me. But that’s not true for everyone else. Some people want their gyms to be fancy and they’re willing to pay for it. Let’s take a look at one of those gyms, Third Space City in London, and examine some of the amenities. From Forbes:

Before you've had the chance to see a connected fitness gadget, you'll find even the air you're breathing is smart. How? Because it's cleaned with UV lamps featuring quartz anodized reflectors that remove 99.9% of all bio-contaminants. This Third Space says, creates the cleanest air in any London gym and aids a better training experience. Even the water fountains use an advanced filtration system to give members pure water throughout the club.

              How does this work exactly? Wouldn’t a bio-contaminant, like a virus or bacteria, cause you to get sick? How would it help your workout?

The club features a "Hypoxic Chamber" that uses tech to take a small percentage of oxygen out of the room and replicate training at 2500m. By exercising in this low oxygen environment, science dictates that you can develop enhanced endurance and stamina. For example, Third Space says a 15 min high-intensity session in the chamber can be equivalent of a one hour workout at sea level.

              THIS DOES NOT NOTHING! Science does not dictate that training at altitude is better than training at sea level. The benefit comes from living at altitude because it forces your body to become more efficient at oxygen consumption when you’re at rest. When you’re exercising, you are already exposing your body to a stimulus. You can’t trick your body into working harder during exercise. In fact, top endurance athletes have a maxim: Live high, train low. They will live at altitude and then travel down to sea level for their more challenging workouts. Or they will live at sea level and sleep in a hypoxic chamber.

I gave the club's latest high tech spin class a whirl, which was a great example of how much innovation Third Space has pumped into this club to offer visitors something unique.

Called Power Ride, the class uses live visual data to fuel your workout, benchmark your commitment and help you achieve better fitness results. Each rider's bike uses data to drive results, endurance, and performance, which is displayed on a leaderboard where you can compare your effort rating with others. Great idea for the uber-competitive, perhaps not so much for those who can't quite keep up (but it does work in giving you a kick up the backside if you're lagging behind).

              That’s not unique, they’ve just ripped off Flywheel.

Something you won't find in many other spas that Third Space have is a 20m swimming pool where the water is treated by UV light technology, which is said to provide a chemical-free treatment, killing any bacteria and viruses.

              So they don’t put any chlorine in the pool? If true, that’s kind of cool.

The changing rooms aren't usually a place where'd you find much technology, but the City club has fan assisted dry showers. Yes, because drying yourself with a towel is so old school.

              This is indicative of what Third Space is really about: luxury and novelty. Nothing here will give you a better workout than a bare bones gym. But you might not have to subject your hair to chlorine damage in the pool and you won’t have to dry yourself with a towel like a peasant. I have no problem with providing a luxury experience but I hate the pseudo-science masquerading as innovation.

Who will watch the Watchmen?: Last week, I wrote about John Hancock’s decision to make all of its life insurance products contingent upon participation in fitness tracking. I am not a fan of that. It turns out that a lot of other people feel the same way. From The Verge:

Another worry is that this will fundamentally change how we measure our lives, according to Dan Bouk, a historian at Colgate University. Bouk studies bureaucracy and quantification and is the author of How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual. At the turn of the 20th century, he explains, corrupt practices tarnished the reputation of US life insurers. As a result, many, including Metropolitan Life, responded by developing and instituting “life extension” programs to seem more philanthropic. These companies took techniques developed for assessing life insurance risk — annual medical examinations, blood pressure measurements, height-weight tables — and made them standard parts of our lives.

“Some historians have shown that most doctors don’t even have scales in their offices until they’re required to by life insurance companies,” he says. “Before this era, most people are only getting a health examination if they’re buying life insurance. Out of a seeming moment of weakness, when companies were under political pressure, they developed new forms of power in terms of shaping how we think about our bodies.”

Medical examinations and screenings certainly seem useful. But they have also “made many people think they were unhealthy in moments that they weren’t, and sacrificed a great deal of human individuality,” Bouk says. For example, many doctors now argue that we use too many medical tests and researchers have long argued that “accepted knowledge” about height-weight tables and obesity are wrong.

“My concern is that you give this power to someone who is giving you life insurance — and life insurance is a crucial means of protecting you and your family against unforeseen accidents — then they get to decide what your healthy life looks like, even if we decide that’s not how a healthy life should look,” Bouk says. “They impose and flatten the variety of ways in which it’s acceptable to be healthy. I can only imagine that certain types of yoga might not work well with an activity tracker.”

              When I was on active duty, I was told that I should lose weight but I was approaching the upper limits of weight for my height. This was because I carry a lot of muscle on my frame but that didn’t matter because they had this chart with some numbers on it. My response was to bring on the rope and choke (and I never hit the limit anyway). Could this become a situation where activity is defined by number of steps taken and ignores everything else entirely? I wouldn’t rule that out. Let’s check in with Morning Chalk-Up as well:

  1. They just can’t track CrossFit, yet. When Margaux Alvarez rowed the ninth fastest marathon in the world among men at the 2018 CrossFit Games, during her 3 hour and 42 second row her Fitbit would have reminded her to get up and walk around because she was idle too long. Plain and simple, if companies like John Hancock start requiring step or distance thresholds in order to get better policy rates, CrossFitters may not qualify. There is some hope in this area as a new wearable called NEXUS was recently released which reportedly can accurately track CrossFit workouts rep-for-rep.

  2. What one insurance company can do, another insurance company can do. As of right now, this only applies to life insurance. But what happens when it’s health insurance and all of the above is still true. Wearables can’t quantify how your Fran time translates to being A). clearly very active that day and B). a pretty fit individual.

  3. How secure are those things anyways? Fitness apps have been hacked multiple times stealing millions upon millions of users data. In March of 2018, MyFitnessPal was hacked and 150 million records were stolen. And in 2016, hackers gained access to Fitbit’s GPS history log as well as sleep data for individual users.

These are 3 of my big fears right here. It’s an imperfect technology to put so much stock into, this could spread to health insurance, and I don’t trust these companies with my data. My last fear is that I spend the rest of my life unable to take my fitness tracker off because I would lose my health and life insurance. That sounds like the plot of an episode of Black Mirror.

Tidbits:

-Free gyms help opioid addicts in their recovery

-Fitness trackers are recalled for burning users

-The Marines are making their fitness test harder

-Feeding Mat Fraser

-A brief history of the women only gym

-How technology is shaping the fitness industry

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS GOING TO CAPITOL HILL

Get PHIT: We have an obesity epidemic in this country. We also have fitness inequality in which the least affluent are generally the least fit. Paying for fitness goods and services is a major obstacle for most people and a big driver in that fitness inequality. Miraculously, Congress might actually try to do something about that. From Club Industry:

The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act has been introduced in both the House and U.S. Senate numerous times in the last decade, with the House bill being most recently introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) in March 2017. It currently has 135 bipartisan sponsors.

On July 12, the act passed through the committee with a vote of 28-7.

“This is tremendous news, and it’s encouraging that our voices are being heard in Washington, D.C., by our national legislators,” PHIT America founder Jim Baugh said in a media release. “Passage of the PHIT Act will make physical activity more affordable for all Americans, especially families.

The PHIT Act would amend the existing IRS code to allow for a medical care tax deduction on qualified purchases for up to $1,000 per taxpayer or $2,000 for married couples filing jointly or heads of household, according to the proposed bill.

Under these revisions, physical activity expenses—including gym memberships and youth and adult sports registration fees—would become reimbursable through pre-tax dollars via health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs), allowing consumers to deduct related costs after meeting the 10 percent of income threshold on medical expenses.

              Despite the fact that this bill enjoys bipartisan support in a political environment in which virtually nothing else does, this idea has come under some intense criticism. From Slate:

But the bill is more than just joke fodder. It’s also symptomatic of a long-standing sickness in American policy making: American politicians, including Democrats, are absolutely addicted to hiding pieces of the welfare state inside the tax code, rather than just spending directly on public goods and services. We deal with retirement savings through 401(k) accounts and health care with FSAs and HSAs and education through 529 accounts and offer commuter benefits and on and on. As a result, positive public policy goals—like helping Americans get fit—get channeled toward silly giveaways for wealthy corporations and upper-income families that don’t really achieve what they intend, because they’re not targeted well toward the people who need help. The fact that these ineffectual ideas are some of the only things that can still get bipartisan support is just one more sign of how broken our politics actually are.

              People are concerned that this will not motivate people to join a gym but only reward those who already do. I disagree with that because people love tax write-offs. My concern is that while this bill may encourage an affluent person to join a gym (or not cancel an existing membership) now it’s a tax break, it won’t encourage a low income person to do so because they probably don’t itemize their taxes or have a health savings account. In other words, this could address the obesity epidemic but not fitness inequality. But it’s better than doing nothing. The PHIT Act isn’t going to the silver bullet because nothing is. We need a suite of solutions to address our fitness problems. This can be one of them but it can’t be the only one. This is not a perfect solution but the perfect is the enemy of the good. Let’s do something! What’s the alternative? Keep doing what we’re doing (Nothing!) because that is not working. If anyone has a better idea, I would love to hear it because I’m not hearing anything. This is not the sign that politics is broken in this country. Enacting policy through the tax code is the path of least resistance for Congress. Taking the path of least resistance is human nature not a sign of the apocalypse. At least, we’re moving in the right direction for once.   

Drugs: CrossFit is cracking down on PED cheaters. The functional fitness giant announced that 10 athletes have tested positive for PEDs and will be sanctioned from competition. From BoxRox:

 

Don’t tell me that CrossFit isn’t fearless. This is what trying to clean up a sport looks like. The problem is that the American sports media does not get this. They think that catching a bunch of athletes means that the sport is dirty. The reality is that every sport is dirty, every sport has an issue with PEDs. If you’re catching anyone, then it means that you have your head in the sand. You’re encouraging your athletes to dope. The major sports organizations in this country (NFL, MLB, NBA) rarely catch anyone because they don’t want not because the athletes aren’t doping. And the sports media buys into it. Remember when they were referring to the “Steroid Era in Baseball” in the past tense as if MLB had miraculously fixed the problem. That all stopped when the Biogenesis story broke in 2013. MLB wasn’t really looking so they weren’t finding anything.

               And these sanctions have some bite to them. These are not slaps on the wrist. CrossFit denied one athlete’s TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) request and I suspect that Emily Abbott (the most high-profile athlete to get banned) is going to say the same thing. They’re setting a zero-tolerance policy here, which I think is the best one. It’s harsh but the athletes will adapt. If you are a pro athlete, then you need to pay attention to everything that goes into your body. You need to be paranoid about it. Carry around a list of banned substances, test all of your supplements, and think about everything that you put into your body. Is this a huge pain in the ass? Yes! But that’s the price to pay to compete in a somewhat clean sport.

TUEs are tough because there are legitimate reasons to have a TUE but athletes have abused them in the past. CrossFit leadership may have looked at the TRT (Testoterone Replacement Therapy) Era in Mixed Martial Arts and decided that they weren’t going to go down that path. I am sick and tired of the tainted supplement excuse. Athletes have to be responsible for whatever ends up in their system, whether it is inadvertent or not. Supplements aren’t regulated, they are the Wild Wild West. Test your supplements or don’t take any. I know that people are going to say that this is too harsh. I have sympathy for anyone in this group who inadvertently took a banned substance because I don’t think that CrossFit had established this hardline stance prior to this. It sucks to be the first one through the door but CrossFit has to start somewhere. Going forward, everyone should realize that this is the standard and act accordingly.

Boutiques: Orangetheory is on the cusp of opening its 1000th location which is fantastic growth for a company that is only nine years old. It celebrated with a profile in Fast Company that was full of interesting facts. For example, I did not know that work-outs are kept secret until members actually show up at the gym.

Orangetheory puts a unique spin on the practice by combining it with technology and behavioral psychology, then adding a dash of spontaneity. To start, club members never know what to expect at each class–it can be speed-focused, endurance training, or more strength-based. There’s no detailed schedule, just the element of surprise; clubs constantly vary modalities–split between cardio and weight-lifting–to avoid the dreaded fitness plateau. (A 26,000-strong Reddit community is devoted to dissecting every day’s mystery workout.)

“That constant changing of stimuli keeps your body adapting over the course of time and not just getting into the rut of doing the same thing every day,” says Orangetheory director of fitness Michael Piermarini. “That helps your body achieve results a bit more quickly.”

              That sounds like it was lifted straight from the CrossFit playbook. Orangetheory also relies upon the competitive spirit to motivate its members:

The heart rate monitors, meanwhile, track one’s anaerobic threshold, i.e., “afterburn,” the point where you reach 84% or 85% of your maximum heart rate and thereby increase your metabolism for the next 24 to 36 hours. This is what they deem the “orange zone.” The goal of each 60-minute class is to accumulate 12 minutes or more in this zone. Huge screens display where each member lies on the color board: blue (61%-70% of your maximum heart rate), green (71%-83%), orange (84%-91%), and the elusive red zone (92%-100%).

Fitness gamification–the art of applying competitive points during your workouts to encourage motivation–is nothing new. The behavioral strategy is the basis of cult favorites like indoor cycling club Flywheel, home app Peloton, and of course, Fitbit. It’s been called the future of health and wellness, the savior of boring workouts, and the only thing to get millennials off their tushes.

              It’s interesting that Flywheel and Peloton are mentioned but not CrossFit because Orangetheory’s training methodology has a lot more in common with CrossFit than it does with cycling classes. Then there were this little nugget:

Orangetheory isn’t slowing down: The Boca Raton-based company will soon open its 1,000th location in Portland, Oregon. California and Texas have the most locations. In 2017, it saw over $738 million in profit, a nearly 40% increase from the year prior. Females compose 80% of members, but the company sees rapid growth with men, many of them CrossFit devotees.

              I can only assume that they meant CrossFit refugees. People who started off doing CrossFit but may have found it too intense or competitive. Positioning themselves as CrossFit Lite (or a kinder, gentler CrossFit) is a good place to be and that’s obviously working out for them. The relationship between CrossFit and Orangetheory will be interesting to watch. Orangetheory might benefit from taking in CrossFit refugees but will Orangetheory also serve as a gateway drug to CrossFit?

Tanning: One of the unappreciated aspects of mission statements is that they define a company’s purpose. This might sound unnecessary to you but it can be surprisingly easy for a company to lose its way. For example, should a gym have tanning beds? From UConn Today:

Gyms are places people go to get healthier. But nearly half the gyms in the U.S. contain a potentially addictive carcinogen – tanning beds, report UConn researchers in the July 18 issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Exercise reduces the risk of every cancer except one – melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. People who exercise heavily are at greater risk of skin cancer, and yet many gyms in the U.S. have tanning beds. In other words, tanning beds in gyms are targeting people who are already at higher risk of skin cancer.

Exercise and tanning are both activities people use to improve their appearance; and people who tan in gyms tan more often – and more addictively – than other people who use tanning beds, according to a study run by UConn psychologist Sherry Pagoto.

              What is the mission statement of a gym? Is it make its members healthier or to make them look better? Most of the time, there is not a huge distinction but tanning beds brings that issue to the fore. If the mission is to make people healthier, then there should be no place for tanning beds in that gym. If the mission is to make people look better, health be damned, then tanning beds in a gym make sense. You can guess where I come down on this issue. Every gym’s mission statement SHOULD be to make people healthier. Therefore, tanning beds don’t belong in gyms. It’s all about the mission statement.

Trends vs. Fads: For some reason, USA Today decided that its readers would want to know what the biggest fitness trend was in the year that they were born. So they did the research and compiled a list starting in 1956 and going all the way to the present.

America’s obsession with physical fitness may have started with President Dwight Eisenhower’s creation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. The program was created as a response to some alarming statistics relating to the physical strength of America’s youth. Specifically, some 60% of American children had failed a physical fitness test, compared to just 9% of European children.

The average amount of calories Americans consume on a daily basis has increased by hundreds over the past few decades, making it harder to stay in shape. While exercise is important, diet is the primary factor in weight gain or weight loss.

As American waistlines expanded, an array of products hit the market promising to be the best, fastest way to help people slim down. Many relied on celebrities who were already in shape or other so-called “fitness gurus” to sell. Upbeat hosts told people how to best work their bodies on television, then VHS tapes, and now on DVDs and online classes.

As technology advanced, many workouts became more high-tech. Americans quickly moved beyond barbells. Hula hoops were one of the first new fitness products to hit the market. Other machines like the treadmill, stationary bike and NordicTrack took activities normally reserved for the outdoors and allowed consumers to get the same type of workout without leaving the home.

While there is no way to determine how many people were embracing an exercise fad in any given year, we attempted to match each fad with the year that it first appeared or the year it became one of the most popular ways for Americans to exercise.

              The first thing that struck me was how all over the place this list is. The invention of the treadmill was the biggest exercise fad of 1978 while two years later, it was gravity boots. The fact that major media outlets are comfortable categorizing everything as a fad is a real problem for the perception of the fitness industry. Some of the things on this list are advancements in technology or proven programs. Other things are the Shake Weight. This is the perception that the fitness industry needs to change: that every new idea in fitness is just another fad. There is a negative connotation to fad and that diminishes the whole industry.

              The thing that I always tell people is that there is a difference between a fad and a trend. A fad fades quickly. A trend sticks around, changes the industry, and is bigger than the brand that popularized. Group exercise classes aren’t a fad but you could say that Tae-Bo was. USA Today could have written that it was determining what the biggest fitness story was the year that you were born. But I think it’s reflexive for people to refer to everything in fitness as a fad and that creates a negative perception. I’m not sure how we change this but we need to.

Tidbits:

-Does pregnancy make women run faster?

-The European fitness market is bigger than the U.S. one

-Garmin and Golds Gym are partnering up

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BODYBUILDING IN MIAMI

Steroids: The Miami New Timespublished an article on the self-described “Pablo Escobar of steroids”, Richard Rodriguez, this week. It is a wild read. Rodriguez made millions selling steroids online and lived a lavish lifestyle in South Florida.

In fact, as the feds soon laid out in court, Rodriguez had built one of the largest online steroid operations in U.S. history. While celebrity bodybuilders flexed on Instagram inside his gym and hawked drugs from his website, Wellness Fitness Nutrition — WFN for short — Rodriguez sold nearly $10 million worth of steroids in two years. He bought a McLaren and a Mercedes-Benz SLS, gifted his wife Cartier jewelry and trips to Europe, and became famous in pro bodybuilding, where he was widely known as Dr. Rodriguez even though he had no medical degree.

Now, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and awaiting sentencing, Rodriguez has offered New Times an unprecedented look at how a steroid operation works today.

Interviews with the steroid kingpin and his associates, hundreds of pages of court filings, and thousands of sales records from his business make two things clear: Scores of clients, from attorneys to medical doctors to cops, brazenly bought his illegal products online before he was busted, and five years after New Timesexposed the Biogenesis steroid clinic — which eventually led to an unprecedented round of suspensions in Major League Baseball — Florida authorities still have little interest in slowing the rise of unregulated steroid clinics in the state.

With drugs shipped in bulk from China and then mixed in legal pharmacies or Rodriguez's own labs, it was almost comically easy for WFN to sell powerful compounds banned by the FDA for human consumption. If a pair of snitches hadn't ratted out Rodriguez to the feds, he might still be lording over a musclebound Miami empire rather than spending his days in a New York prison cell.

"Florida is a vanity-driven state where the market for steroids is enormous," Rodriguez says. "Most of our profit didn't come from power builders or pro athletes; it was just regular guys like you and me."

Some thoughts:

-The next time that someone tries to claim that their sport does not have a PED (Performance Enhancing Drug) issue, just remember how many people are willing to take steroids just to look good. No imagine that there is money and glory at stake and no one is willing to do what it takes to gain an edge on their competitors. 

-Bodybuilding has got to have the worst culture when it comes to PED’s. It has to be the only sport that has separate drug-freecompetitions. And there are a lot of people who doubt whether the athletes competingin natural bodybuilding are really clean. It’s just accepted that everyone involved in the sport is taking a ton of PED’s.

-Prior to 2000, the fitness culture in the U.S. was dominated by bodybuiding. Since then functional fitness has growing and gaining influence and I think that it is a great thing. Bodybuilding’s relationship with PED’s and obsession with aesthetics at the expense of function always troubled me. That kind of culture should not dominate the fitness landscape. 

-Read the article. It’s amazing how quickly this guy built an online steroid empire and how fast it all fell apart. 

Manage your time: Fitness apps are all the rage these days and POPiN has been getting more than its share of attention. The app is a way to purchase gym time by the minute instead of paying for a membership or a day pass. Business Insiderdid a profile of POPiN and one paragraph stood out to me:

The app also emphasizes that time truly is money. Knowing that I was paying by the minute, I was hyper-aware of the quality of my workout and didn't waste time scrolling through my phone or dawdling like I normally would. Each action or repetition felt more intentional — it'd be wasteful otherwise. 

            This is how you should always workout. I don’t think that the existence of pay by the minute services like POPiN will change the way that everyone approaches fitness but it would be great if it did. It drives me crazy to watch people who waste their time in the gym because I imagine that they bemoan the fact that they spend all this time working out yet fail to get the results that they want. Now I will want to read this paragraph to them. 

Business to Business: Subscription models have always been the envy of the business world.Lately, entrepreneurs have dedicated themselves to bringing that business model to new industries. One of the more high-profile ones has been MoviePass, an attempt to make movie theaters a monthly subscription. The company has been struggling to reach profitability, in fact it loses money on every subscriber. Now AMC has announced its own competitor service. Forbespublished an article on and decided to make a comparison to the fitness industry:

MoviePass has built a money-losing business on monthly memberships for unlimited movies. Now AMC Theatres is coming out with their own entry in that business model, A-List, which will cosst $19.99 per month for three movies a week. These movie membership plans have much in common with gym memberships, but also some important differences. A closer look reveals that MoviePass looks unsustainable, but AMC can probably make their membership plan work.

Gyms that rely on monthly membership build their business model on the knowledge that a large number of people will sign up (many of them right around New Year Day) and then rarely cross the doorway to the gym. In fact, some estimates suggest that two-thirds of gym members never use the gym to which they belong. That lets them keep average costs lower because they don’t need to stock the gym based on their actual paying membership, instead they can size their facilities to the ones that actually show up.

MoviePass has one membership plan that allows you to watch a movie a day for $9.95, plus a more limited option of three movies a month for $7.95. However, unlike gyms, MoviePass has to pay when a member uses their membership. A gym is just crowded if more members than expected get dedicated. In contrast, MoviePass has to pay the full ticket cost for every movie their members go see, so higher usage is much more expensive to MoviePass than to a gym. This difference is not a trivial one; thanks to those costs, MoviePass is losing $40 million a month, and those loses are expected to increase. Unless MoviePass can find a new revenue stream, somehow monetizing the data from its members at an incredibly high rate, it seems doomed.

            Yes, there are a lot of people who pay membership dues and rarely use it. The problem with this is that people don’t like to pay for something that they never use. So they cancel their memberships and now the gym has to acquire a new customer to replace the one that left. And it is always more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain a current one. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the fitness industry but it always irks me when people assert that gyms have some magic formula. Subscription models are nice but there is nothing magic about high churn rates. 

The rich get thinner:There is a national conversation about income equality but less well-known is fitness inequality. And the two appear to be correlated. From the Washington Post:

We found that, overall, median household income does the best job of predicting physical fitness out of the variables we looked at: The more money you have, the more exercise you get. You need disposable income to buy a gym membership or running shoes, after all.

The CDC study takes this relationship one step further by looking at the types of jobs people have in each state. States with higher percentages of people in managerial and professional roles, which tend to pay more money, have higher rates of physical activity.

We also turned up an interesting correlation between religiosity, or rather the lack thereof, and physical fitness: States with higher numbers of nonreligious people had higher rates of exercise. As the Public Religion Research Institute has reported, cities tend to be “hubs” for the religiously unaffiliated, and they're often full of the types of high-paying jobs that the CDC links to higher rates of exercise. There may also be a simple mechanism at work by which people who don't go to church have more time to exercise on the weekends.

Conversely, fitness is negatively associated with the share of people in a state who voted for President Trump in 2016. This is where we need to point out, emphatically, that simple correlations like these don't tell us much about causation. It seems highly unlikely that pulling the lever for Trump would somehow make a person decide to hang up her running shoes. More likely, Trump support is related to a whole host of other structural factors, like income and demographics, that also relate to rates of fitness.

            First off, correlation is not causation. The Post acknowledges this but seems to want to find a cause in their data. I believe that it’s a cultural issue. Educated people who live in urban areas are more likely to value fitness. There are a thousand articles about millennials who can’t really afford SoulCycle but value it so much that they find a way to pay for it. That type of person is also less likely to attend religious services and support Donald Trump. 

It does take money to exercise but not as much as people think. Fitness can be as cheap and low-tech as you need it to be. The biggest financial issue holding people back is a lack of walkable/runnable neighborhoods. But that’s more of an inner city issue than a rural one. Although if you’ve ever tried to run in a rural area, you may have found that it’s not always a friendly environment for runners.  

We have a lot of divides in our country. I think that this is another by-product of our diverging cultures.             

Real estate: Once upon a time, landlords did not like gyms. That is no longer the case. The commercial real estate industry has embraced gym operators and they are snapping up some of the best locations. GlobeSt.comtalked to CBRE about this development:

GlobeSt.com: Why have fitness tenants become such active retail occupiers? 

Petra Durnin: Fitness clients seek more experiential retail options that extend beyond the workout period. Fitness centers provide a service that is internet proof, occupy much of the space left behind from big box/department store closures, fill non-peak retail hours, and attract new customers willing to travel farther for unique fitness experiences. The natural partnership between anchor tenants such as grocers is formed due to the trend towards healthy living. Nearby amenities such as restaurants, coffee shops and personal services attract gym goers, increase foot traffic and sales.

            Landlords used to dislike gyms because they didn’t believe that gym-goers were the right kind of foot traffic, i.e. shoppers. A lot has changed in the last few years. Beyond being “internet proof”, gyms attract affluent consumers multiple times a week. It’s hard to imagine how landlords ever considered that a bad thing. What else might change in the coming years?

GlobeSt.com: Is this a lasting trend? What is your outlook for fitness center activity? 

Durnin: A future trend could be for fitness clubs to locate near residential communities or medical/hospital complexes. They could partner with mixed-use and lifestyle centers with a larger experiential platform instead of traditional retail centers. Boutique fitness clubs could look to diversify further to provide an even more personalized experience with unconventional offerings such as trampoline parks and skydiving centers.

            That was very vague. It’s I don’t think that CBRE has a good sense of where the fitness industry is headed. Have you ever been to a trampoline park? You could fit at least 5 boutiques into one trampoline park. That is not something that you offer on the side. Neither is indoor skydiving. 

 

Tidbits:

-So you think that your hamstrings are strong?

-Reebok tries and fails to have evidence from its lawsuit with CrossFit sealed

-You  pre-order Dave Castro’s book

-The CrossFit Games are staying in Madison through 2021

-BuzzFeed goes long on Russell Berger

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WORKING OUT IN VR

VR: There is a lot of talk about VR (Virtual Reality) taking over fitness these days. The technology is finally catching up to science fiction and there are several consumer headsets on the market today. The idea behind VR Fitness is fairly straightforward: you work-out in a video game. People are starting to experiment with weights in order to add a strength training component. Some startups such as Black Box VR believe that competition will be the driving force that keeps people coming back. From the BBC:

In my two-minute demonstration, I chest-pressed my way to victory in front of a crowd in a huge virtual arena, punching out bowling balls of fire and, inexplicably, large green birds as I pulled the machine, with more resistance piling on at every repetition.

I was rewarded with a virtual sweat band in a prize box and aching biceps for the rest of the afternoon.

There was no noticeable latency between my action and the action I saw in VR, and the graphics, while a bit strange, were immersive. It certainly beat watching rolling news programmes in the gym with the sound down.

The demo appears to have been designed with male testers in mind - the reps were heavy, and the only available profile to compete against was a macho avatar called Razer wearing green armour.

But the firm was at pains to point out to me that ultimately people could compete against each other, and that other computer-based avatars would also be developed.

Of course the concept of getting fit while playing a game is as old as sport itself, and Black Box has been developed by people who are already very motivated by fitness.

After my brief experience I couldn't say whether it would hold my attention in the long run. But on the other hand, neither has my gym membership.

              Is this the future of fitness? Probably not. It’s very expensive. Designing a full-body workout that matches up with a game and is safe to play is a bit of a stretch. You would also have to design a game that people won’t get sick of. Either that or just keep cranking out new games constantly, which would be very expensive. Don’t get me wrong, there will be a market for this. But fitness as we know it now will live on. The Telegraph sent Nick Harding to test out a bunch of VR fitness games. His conclusion:

VR has a way to go yet. There are limitations and safety considerations. If you start moving around in virtual space, it’s easy to bump into real world objects and it is neither safe or advisable to use VR headsets outside. But these are problems which will be overcome. Most likely, VR will become an addictive gateway activity to coax a certain section of the population out of sloth; a Wii Fit on steroids. People who enjoy gyms and physical pursuits will still exercise in the real world, but on a treadmill the graphics are not as good, and sadly, there are no rogue robots in sight. 

              I agree. This can be a useful tool and it will comprise a subsection of the industry. But the great thing about fitness is even as technology takes a more prominent role in our lives and society, the best fitness will always be low-tech fitness. You can have all the bells and whistles you want but just give me a pile of weights and an open trail and we’ll see who’s in better shape.              

Aerobic vs Anaerobic: When it comes to training the cardiovascular system, the fitness community is years behind the endurance sports community. This may be an uncomfortable thing for many people to hear but it is undeniably true. Some people believe that they are pioneers by using altitude training or anaerobic workouts and in believing that, they ignore the lessons learned by generations of runners, cyclists, swimmers, etc. Scott Johnson, writing for Outside Magazine, has had enough:

Over the past 15 years, there has been an explosion in fitness fads promoting all sorts of dubious concepts. Perhaps the worst of all is the idea that shorter, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can substitute for traditional long-duration aerobic base work in endurance athletes who are looking to maximize their performance.

To be clear, though many of this idea’s proponents have emerged from CrossFit, I’m not singling out that community. CrossFit can be an effective and transformational approach to working out for some athletes. My beef is with a few of its misguided adherents, some of whom claim that their HIIT programs offer new breakthroughs in training that allow athletes of all stripes to achieve the same results with less training time. Others even go so far as to say that putting in the long hours of endurance work is bad for you. To make matters even worse, much of the popular press—Outside occasionally included—seems to promote these programs.

              There is a reason that endurance athletes don’t just do HIIT all the time. In order to optimize performance, you need to build as big of a base of aerobic fitness as possible.

In 2010, a meta-analysis by Norwegian researchers examined the actual distribution of training intensity used by elite athletes across the full spectrum of endurance sports. The conclusion: The best in the world complete about 80 percent of their training volume at low intensity, 7 to 8 percent at moderate intensity, and about 12 to 13 percent at high intensity.

The 80/20 approach, as it’s called, can seem counterintuitive. Most people think they need to train hard all the time if they want to get faster. In reality, however, training slower will make you faster. The reasons come down to physiology. The sustainable duration of high-intensity work mainly depends on the aerobic capacity of your slow-twitch (ST) muscles. The more aerobically adapted your ST fibers are, the greater the intensity you can maintain for a longer duration.

              There are a lot of people in the fitness industry who think that they are treading new ground. They’re not. Elite athletes have been doing this for decades and have figured out what works. Don’t believe me? The world record for the marathon is 2:02:57. That’s an average of 4:42 per mile for 26.2 miles. The fitness industry has been very dismissive of the endurance sports community lately and seem intent on re-inventing the wheel.  Endurance athletes know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to cardiovascular training. There is no need to re-invent the wheel.

Spending Habits: Retail sales are moving online as people hunt for discounts. But where do all those savings go? From Bloomberg:

Despite their online deal-hunting, Americans aren’t skimping. What they aren’t spending on books or paper towel they’re pouring into gym memberships.

Enthusiasm for discretionary services spending isn’t isolated to barbells and stadium cycling. It finally exceeded its pre-recession peak in the second quarter, the New York Fed found, and the savings rate has ticked down to the lowest rate since the start of the recession. Solid demand is benefiting categories from financial help to healthcare.

              Fitness is in a good spot. Consumers are becoming very price sensitive when it comes to retail and less price sensitive when it comes to fitness products. The other trend is towards acquiring experiences rather than stuff. That also benefits the fitness industry. Over the last 2 years, spending on gym memberships is up over $6 billion, from just under $48 billion at the end of 2015 to over $54 billion at the end of 2017. Fitness still has a lot of room to grow and consumer attitudes are shifting in its favor.

              For example, people are willing to pay $5000 for weekend-long fitness retreats. Bloomberg sent Sheila Marikar to one such retreat in Austin for female executives and entrepreneurs. Not only do these women want to look and feel better, they also want to perform better in the office:

Beyond vanity, there’s empirical evidence linking physical fitness, CEO success, and a company’s profitability. In 2015, Peter Limbach and Florian Sonnenburg of the University of Cologne found that companies in the S&P 1500 index whose chief executive officers had finished a marathon from 2001 to 2011 were worth 5 percent more, on average, than those whose bosses had not. “The characteristics a marathon runner needs to have are quite similar to potential characteristics that a CEO needs,” says Limbach, who is working on an updated study with Sonnenburg. While approximately 2 percent of the 3,000 CEOs in the sample were women, Limbach says he has “no reason to believe there’s a difference between males and females running firms or running marathons.”

              Except that if a woman wants to clinch that CEO title, her level of fitness matters more. “What we find is that investors look into this stuff,” says Limbach. “They’re interested in whether CEOs are physically fit or not. What’s important is the stress-releasing component of being fit. You’re better at coping with stress when you have a channel to get rid of it. And I think that’s why fitness is important for females in particular. When they are CEOs, they have even more eyes looking at them and fingers pointing at them.”

              Maybe fitness is becoming the new golf. Except instead of hitting a ball around, we’re sharpening our mind and bodies. And how can you put a price on being the best version of yourself?

Cycling: Peloton is branching out into running. They’re debuting a new treadmill at CES. A $4000 treadmill. That seems a little pricey to me. From The Verge:

Like the Peloton cycling bike, the Peloton Tread will stream live daily classes — up to 10 a day, with 7,000 available on demand — on a 32-inch HD touchscreen attached to the treadmill. These running classes are led by real instructors, just like its current classes. But Peloton says the Tread isn’t just about running; it’s supposed to offer cross training-style classes, too, as well as guided hiking and walking workouts. 

Unlike traditional treadmills, which often have a series of buttons that require a forceful touch to change settings while you’re working out, the Peloton Tread has two large knobs. The treadmill’s belt is made up of 59 shock-absorbing slats, for a cushioned feel, and there’s a sound bar that gives it surround sound (on a treadmill!)

This is a risky move. The treadmill costs double the price of their bike. And while running has always been popular, running classes have never really been a thing. Where would someone even take a running class? Cycling classes are ubiquitous and serve as gateway drugs to Peloton. Are they really expecting people to shell out $4000 for something that they’ve never done before? Whether they like it or not, Peloton has been swimming in the wake of SoulCycle and FlyWheel. It’s very difficult to break new ground with a home-based product that has such a high price point. It’s one thing to try out a class for $30. It is quite another to buy a $4000 treadmill.

Inequality: There is a lot of talk about income inequality in this country but a lot less about exercise inequality. The rich are getting fitter and the poor are getting fatter. And there are structural reasons why this is happening. From Vox:

This exercise gap is widening at a time when 45 percent of American youth don’t have parks, playground areas, community centers, or sidewalks and trails in their neighborhood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (That average hides a lot of inequality and variation at the state and neighborhood level.) Less than forty percent of adults live within half a mile of a park.

There’s also been a decline in public investments in city parks during much of the 20th century, and some recent revivals in enthusiasm for green spaces in cities have been threatened by local government budget crises.

So many Americans don’t have access to basic spaces for physical activity — and the government is not investing enough in low-cost exercise options.

Public parks and YMCAs are spaces that theoretically welcome everyone. I have been a YMCA member in almost every city I’ve lived in, and I took yoga and swimming classes with people from every corner of society, age group, and fitness level.

The people in my Flywheel classes tend to skew young, well-heeled, fit, and white. I know I’ve certainly benefited from these boutique facilities, but I worry about the message they send of what fitness has to look like.

              I love talking about low-tech fitness but you still need someplace where it’s safe and hospitable to walk or run. And joining a gym is a no-go if you’re living below the poverty line and guess what, there’s probably not a gym nearby if you live in a low income area. The best way to promote health and fitness is to make it the path of least resistance. If you make it easier for someone to eat a candy bar instead of an apple, then that person is going to eat that candy bar. And if you don’t make exercise convenient, then people probably aren’t going to exercise either. So what can we do?

We can make our communities more walkable or bikable. Imagine if more cities made their streets pedestrian-friendly and invested in spaces that everyone could access, such as community yoga studios, public parks, or even programs like Sunday San Francisco Streets or the Ciclovía in Bogota, Colombia, which involve closing down streets for walking and biking on the weekend. Researchers have found putting traffic-free cycling and walking routes in place increases physical activity levels for the people who live near them.

              New York City also does the same for Central Park on the weekends. And it is packed with pedestrians and bikers, especially in the summer. The other idea that I love is putting outdoor, all-weather gyms in public parks. They don’t even need to take up much room. In Colombia, I worked out at one that used rocks for weights. They can be as cheap as you need them to be. Ideally, we should have several tiers of fitness options. The first tier should be public options like parks and outdoor gyms. The second tier should be big box gyms like Planet Fitness or LA Fitness or home workouts like P90X. And the third tier should be luxury gyms like Equinox, group workouts like CrossFit and SoulCycle, or more expensive home workouts like Peloton. Right now, we are dropping the ball on the first tier.

              In case you’re skeptical about exercise inequality, The Atlantic/City Lab did a deep dive into the explosion of boutique fitness. As William Gibson said, the future is already here it’s just not evenly distributed:

As the map below shows, there appear to be two broad fitness belts, according to this metric—one across parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, and the others along parts of the Plains, the Rockies, and the Northwest. The Deep South and the Midwest have the lowest ratios for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors. These places are among those with the highest levels of obesity as well. In this way, the urban fitness revolution reflects the large and growing divide in Americans’ health and well-being, no less because the classes themselves are expensive—at many boutique studios, the cost of entry is anywhere between $30 and $40 a class, if exercisers don’t buy them in bulk.

Fitness trainers and aerobics instructors are even more concentrated at the level of the city. It’s no surprise that large metros like New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles contain the greatest number of them. But looking at LQs to control for population, smaller places, including a number of fitness-oriented college towns, come to the fore. San Rafael, California—just across the bay from San Francisco in upscale Marin County—tops the list with a high LQ of 3.4. Also among the top 10 are Eugene, Oregon (2.6), which is home to the University of Oregon and is often referred to as “the running capital of the world”; Lynn-Saugus-Marblehead (2.5), a coastal boating, sailing, kayaking and fishing mecca outside of Boston; and Boulder, Colorado, home to the University of Colorado and a gathering place for runners, cyclists and skiers.

              Massive inequality, whether income or exercise, is not the hallmark of a healthy society. We need to do something about this.

TidBits:

-Lifetime Fitness bans cable news from overhead TVs

-Equinox’s design strategy: don’t look like a gym

-Orangetheory’s marketing strategy starts with hyperlocal social lead generation

-CrossFit and the WWE

 

THE WEEKLY HOWL IS BOOKING A ROOM AT THE GYM

Anti-Fragile: PopSugar had an intriguing piece titled “Here’s Why the Gym Might Be Hindering Your Fitness Journey”. I’m surprised that I clicked on it because that title seemed to suggest that it was one of those articles bashing the fitness industry and everyone involved in it. But it wasn’t and it touched upon one problem that I see all the time: the lack of adaptability in people’s workout routines.

There's nothing wrong with getting a buzz just at the thought of hitting the gym. But if your love for the gym means you can't commit to working out in alternative environments, you might find yourself skipping sweat sessions because of your attachment. A successful fitness journey is an adaptable one, so start out by downloading a fitness app, and try slipping in a home workout every once in a while.

                There is a paradox at the heart of fitness. You need to be disciplined and regimented in order to see results. In order to find that consistency, you probably need to workout at the same time and in the same place every day. Your will and your routine must be iron. But what happens when your daily routine is disrupted? You’re traveling, work is crazy, there’s a family emergency, it’s the holidays and your gym is closing early. If you’re slavish to your routine and particularly to a specific mix of equipment, then these disruptions will completely upend your workouts.

                Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, wrote a book titled Antifragile. It is based on the idea that in order to survive, organisms and institutions must not only be able to survive disruption but thrive because of it:

The core idea behind this book is simple and quite enticing. Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world and all that's in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust and the antifragile. You are fragile if you avoid disorder and disruption for fear of the mess they might make of your life: you think you are keeping safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to the shock that will tear everything apart. You are robust if you can stand up to shocks without flinching and without changing who you are. But you are antifragile if shocks and disruptions make you stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge you face. Taleb thinks we should all try to be antifragile.

                Your fitness has to be antifragile. This means that you may need A, B, and C plans. Plan A could be at the gym, Plan B at home, and Plan C on the road. Cardio Plan A might be using the Ski Erg and Rowing Machine in the gym, Cardio Plan B running from home, and Cardio Plan C jumping rope in your hotel room. That’s the survival side of it, what about the thriving part? This forces you to learn and master new skills. Why is that beneficial? Because just as challenging your body in a new way can yield physical results, it turns out that it will also benefit your mind. From Business Insider:

By putting away our usual tools and trying something completely different, we're able to challenge the body — and brain — in a novel way. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that older people who were assigned to learn a new skill like quilting saw gains in memory that were still present more than a year later. This suggests that taking up a new exercise hobby, whether it's cycling, dancing, yoga, or kickboxing, could help not only increase your workout motivation but also benefit your mind.

                Location is a problem but so is time. I’ve seen people who have crafted 90-120 minute gym routines that they then view as absolutely essential. But when your workout is that long, it is incredibly easy to disrupt. I always try to keep my workout around 60 minutes because it is doable on a daily basis to get that done. But I also have shorter options that I can use when I don’t have a lot of time. For example, Cardio Plan B for time might be fan bike sprints. 

Real Estate: For everyone who has ever said that they would live in the gym if they could:

The hottest new hotel in Chicago is an anomaly. It’s far from the Magnificent Mile and booming West Loop, the heart of the city’s tourism and business traffic. Since it edges up against a major expressway and residential neighborhoods like Logan Square and Bucktown, it’s the only proper hotel for at least a mile (save for The Robey in Wicker Park). There’s no doorman to greet you on the street, either: the hotel is inside a fitness club. But for active travelers heading to the Windy City, the new 55-room Hotel at Midtown—debuting today inside the recently opened Midtown Athletic Club Chicago—promises to be a huge draw.

Billed as the largest health and fitness property in the U.S., the club itself opened in September following an $85 million upgrade, transforming the formerly industrial tennis complex into a six-story, 575,000-square-foot sports resort. Featuring long, sleek lines and a reliance on natural materials like wood panels, glass, and concrete, today, it reads more as an urban wellness retreat than anything else. And while tennis may still figure prominently (there are 16 courts), the club’s impressive assortment of boutique fitness offerings are the new attraction.

                Real estate is going through a phase in which the distinctions between spaces are blurring. I just listened to a Marketplace piece on a bank in Berlin where you can eat lunch. WeWork went from co-working to co-living and now to gyms. And now Lifetime Fitness Inc. has dropped the fitness from its name and is expanding into co-working and healthcare:

 Moving forward, nearly all of the company’s fitness centers will be called Life Time Athletic. Locations in the Minneapolis, Boston, Las Vegas, Sacramento and Philadelphia areas already have healthcare components on site, with physical therapists, chiropractors and even family practice-style doctors with basic diagnostic tools such as blood work and X-ray machines.

Those, and locations near Nashville and Charlotte opening before the end of this year, will be labeled as Life Time Proactive Care wings.

While healthcare may seem a logical extension of a wellness brand, co-working is a more ambitious jump. The first Life Time Work will be part of a location opening in early 2018 in the Philly suburb of Ardmore, as a co-working space “fully integrated” with the fitness component, Thunstrom said. Of the four-story, 80K SF building, the fourth floor — about 15K SF — will be devoted to Life Time Work.

                This focus on integration will benefit fitness in that for the first time, fitness will not be an afterthought. No more poorly designed hotel and corporate gyms crammed into a tiny room in the basement. From the business side, I’m wondering what effect this will have on the fitness industry. Right now, fitness flies under the radar of Wall Street. There are only a handful of publicly traded fitness companies in the U.S. and as a result, the industry does not get a lot of attention. However, if fitness becomes more of a focus for big real estate companies, then we could see some momentous changes. Whether those changes will be positive or negative, we will have to wait and see. In the meantime, go ahead and book a room at the gym.

Fitness Inequality: I have to admit that I hadn’t heard the term “exercise desert” until a couple of days ago but I knew exactly what it was when I did. From WFPL in Louisville:

And in an area of town with low life expectancy, where health issues like obesity and diabetes are prevalent, where many older residents are dealing with the physical repercussions of years of labor, and some may not feel safe going for a jog, Break the Mold is helping fill something of an exercise desert.

Break the Mold isn’t the only place near Hallmark to exercise — there’s the downtown branch of the YMCA, classes at the Flaget Senior Center, St. Peter’s Church of Christ near Portland and the California Community Center. But compared to Louisville’s more affluent neighborhoods, there are fewer exercise opportunities here.

Combine that with parks that aren’t kept up and higher rates of gun violence, exercising is not an easy choice to make.

“We talk about trying to make the healthy choice the easy choice. And in low-income neighborhoods, the healthy choice is often the hardest thing to do,” said Steven Wallace, a professor of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “And in an affluent neighborhood, the healthy choice is often easy.”

                Most gyms are a business and they locate themselves in fairly affluent, population-dense areas. That leaves huge swaths of the country that don’t have access to a gym. I am an advocate of cheap fitness, the idea that you can get in shape for as little money as you need to. But even that idea is based on access to outdoor spaces in which it’s safe to walk or run and not everyone has access to that either. Food deserts have been getting more attention over the last few years. It’s time for exercise deserts to get the same attention. One possible solution: build more outdoor gyms in public parks. From the Lansing State Journal:

The large yellow and green elliptical stationary bike sitting on a concrete slab in Sharp Park may seem like it belongs inside a gym.

You'll find it along the paved walking path on the nearly 58-acre park just south of the Lansing Mall. 

Wednesday it was one of five pieces of exercise equipment installed on the 1,200-square-foot slab, including a bench and leg press, all part of a new public outdoor gym, the first in Eaton County.

The year-round $25,000 gym is expected to double in size as funding allows, and is free to anyone who wants to use it.

                Somewhere along the line, we seemed to decide that gyms had to be indoors but if you travel to other countries, you are likely to see outdoor, public gyms. That idea is starting to gain some traction country but its slow growing. We need more of these. Fitness should be readily accessible to everyone.

 

Streaming: Well+Good conducted a panel with several fitness entrepreneurs to discuss the future of fitness. They were bullish on boutique fitness despite the inroads made by digital offerings. John Foley, the CEO of Peloton, made an astute observation:

Think American culture is wellness obsessed now? Foley points out something really interesting: “Fitness wasn’t a category that existed in the ’60s,” he said. “It wasn’t until the ’70s that jogging became a trend. This is still a young space.” Sure, you and your friends may be all about the hot instructor at your bootcamp class, but many, many people still live in towns where there just aren’t that many cool classes happening.

“Six years ago, SoulCycle was the hottest [place] around and the classes would sell out in, like, 20 seconds,” Foley said. “My wife had to plan her week based around when she got into a class. And I wasn’t willing to do that, so I went around feeling like a second-class citizen because I was working out at the gym.” It was his “aha” moment: If that many people wanted to book a class, what would happen if it became possible for 500 people to book it? Or even 1,000? And today, that’s exactly what happens with Peloton’s at-home streaming.

                The fitness industry is a young, immature industry. There is tremendous room for growth because the majority of the population are not consumers. Many people live in towns in which there is no gym at all. Boutique fitness may be a sizable piece of the fitness pie but it is probably not destined to be in every city and town. I agree that boutique and digital fitness will be complement each other. More specifically, I think that the boutiques in New York and California will be the incubators of new ideas. After those ideas are developed and become the newest craze, they will spread through the digital fitness world. It’ll be kind of like the fashion world. The innovation happens in Milan, Paris, and New York and most people consider it wildly over-priced. Then it slowly filters down to the masses spread all over the world. The boutiques will always be the ideas factory but digital will bring those ideas to the world.  

Technology: I am always a bit skeptical of technological innovation in fitness. The best fitness is old-school fitness but there will always be people who want to sell you the new thing. Forbes highlighted “the most innovative gyms, exercise classes and fitness equipment” of 2017. Let’s talk about a few of them.

(1)    Virgin Active’s altitude chamber spin class. This is pointless. You just go slower. The magic of altitude is when you live at altitude. That forces your body to become more efficient at processing oxygen when you’re not training. Training at altitude and living at sea-level is the exact opposite of what you want to do.

(2)    The Tier X program at Equinox. They 3D scan your body, measure your metabolic rate, and analyze your breath. I wonder how well they use all that data in designing a fitness & nutrition plan but this sounds intriguing although very expensive.

(3)    PRAMA. This is the first time I have seen this. It looks a technology in which the floor lights up in order to highlight what exercise you should be doing. This strikes me as something that is extremely fun the first few times you do it and then you get bored of it. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon.

(4)    E-Pulsive. The latest attempt to convince people that EMS (electric muscle stimulation) is the easy path to getting ripped. The idea here is to condense a 90 minute workout into 20 minutes using EMS. There is no evidence that EMS does much of anything. Just contracting the muscle without any resistance isn’t going to do much. Try flexing all day and see if you get the same results as lifting weights. EMS was designed to improve flow to the muscles to aid in recovery. It was not meant to up the intensity of your workout. Self Magazine went in-depth on EMS training and spoke to Bob Girandola, a biology professor at USC:

Although EMS can be good for sending blood flow to the muscles to prevent swelling and inflammation, Girandola says it likely won’t help with muscle growth. “If you want to get a muscle to get bigger and you do muscle contractions, it doesn't get bigger unless you put a resistance to it,” he explains. In other words, simply squeezing your muscle won't increase its size—you actually need to add enough of a challenge to stimulate muscle growth. (This doesn't necessarily have to mean lifting weights, either. Using your bodyweight, as you do during a pushup or squat, can be an effective form of resistance, too.) 

        There is no getting around doing the work required to get stronger and fitter. Unless it involves altering your genetic structure, don’t believe anyone that wants to sell you a magic pill in any form.

TidBits:

-Apple’s GymKit made its debut in Australia

-A step by step breakdown of how to pay for your gym time by the minute

-YogaWorks is still expanding but revenue growth is flat

-Workout on your way to work

-Shopping for a new gym bag?

-Allison Brie really likes talking about fitness now